Collaboration with a big C

On a midsummer afternoon in 1957, a church fundraiser altered the course of music history. It was just after 4:00 when a group of teenagers took the stage. Rumour has it the boys were so anxious about playing in front of their neighbours, they downed a few beers before launching their set.

This may explain why several songs into the performance, their lead singer forgot his lyrics, struggled to improvise, and somehow mangled, “Come little darlin’, come and go with me,” into, “Down, down, down, down to the penitentiary.”

Most of the audience was oblivious to the flub. But not everyone. One listener was watching intently, impressed by the band’s antics. His name was Paul McCartney. And he’d just had his first glimpse of John Lennon.

Half a century later, Lennon and McCartney’s collaborative works are credited with launching a new era in music history, one in which it became acceptable to combine genres, play a sitar alongside a violin, and use technology as an instrument. We know the Beatles were creative, but how they got that way remains something of a mystery. So just what were they doing right?

Collaboration in the workplace is when two or more people work together through idea sharing and thinking to achieve a common goal. It’s teamwork operating at a high level.

A lot of social networking doesn’t necessarily equate to a lot of collaboration. People may frequently share information online, but they could still be holding back or more concerned about achieving their own goals or creating a particular image of themselves. Of course, getting to know people through social media can be a useful step towards collaboration; for example, where fairly casual and insignificant initial contacts lead on to offers of help or advice. And those who are comfortable using external social media will be more likely to quickly grasp and embrace the benefits of internal social collaboration tools.

There’s so much information out there about the impressive capabilities of social tools that we might be forgiven for thinking these are a prerequisite for effective internal collaboration.

In fact, there are a number of completely different factors that could be seen as the actual building blocks of strong performance in this area within an organisation:

Belief in a common cause – which requires strong and effectively communicated organisational vision and objectives

Openness to learn – which also means understanding your own strengths, weaknesses and where you could improve. This might seem obvious but unfortunately and, as illustrated by a recent Harvard Business School study, we don’t seem to be very good at self-awareness. This research, which gathered data from over 357,000 people, found an average correlation of .29 between self-evaluations and objective assessments (a correlation of 1.0 would indicate total accuracy). And the correlation was even lower for work-related skills. Over-rating our capabilities and our ability to accomplish tasks within a particular time frame could make us disinclined to collaborate, or have a negative impact on outcomes of team working

Trust – believing that your views will be listened to, considered and that you won’t be ridiculed or otherwise be put at a disadvantage for expressing them.

For collaboration to work over the long term, leaders must invest one-on-one time with the key implementers of the strategy and support them with adequate training and coaching, education is critical for ensuring technical capabilities and modelling collaborative behaviour.

My definition for collaboration is as follows:

Collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision. The key points are that it is not through individual effort, something new is created, and that the glue is the shared vision.

Coordination is sharing information and resources so that each party can accomplish their part in support of a mutual objective. It is about teamwork in implementation. Not creating something new.

Cooperation is important in networks where individuals exchange relevant information and resources in support of each other’s goals, rather than a shared goal. Something new may be achieved as a result, but it arises from the individual, not from a collective team effort.

All three of these are important. All three are aspects of teamwork. But they are not the same!

We can find examples of effective teamwork in all types of environments; sports, military, and even historically in politics (e.g. Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet). All high performance teams have common characteristics. But depending on their purpose and intent, they might rely more on coordination or cooperation than on collaboration.

When is Collaboration important?
In a network environment, where there is not interdependence, collaboration is not essential to the creative process. Through cooperative sharing of information and resources, creativity emerges through individuals and is hopefully recognized and supported.

However in an interdependent organization, collaboration is the bedrock of creative solutions and innovation.

If Yahoo is to reinvent itself, collaboration will be essential.

Collaboration will not occur by decree

Can collaboration occur at a distance?

Absolutely, if leaders are intentional about building collaborative environments, model collaborative leadership practices, and create opportunities to bring people together for occasional face-to-face conversations.
Collaborative leadership is based on respect, trust and the wise use of power. Leaders must be willing to let go of control. Collaboration does not naturally occur in traditional top-down, control-oriented hierarchical environments.
People need the freedom to exercise their own judgment. There has to be room for experimentation, failure and learning from mistakes. And there needs to be an opportunity for people to think together, valuing each other’s perspective and contributions, in order for creative new ideas to emerge.

Finally, Collaboration is all about achieving the best possible outcomes so it is important, when taking action to improve collaboration, to trap these as they unfold. Examples might be: new groups collaborating leading to the development of an exciting new product idea or service improvement; getting something to market quicker than would previously have been possible; better online collaboration, reducing the need for meetings and conferences, with resulting time and travel cost savings.

Dan Tapscott once said:

“Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.”

My visit to Sedona – AZ

I recently celebrated my birthday in Sedona – a city that straddles the county line between Coconino and Yavapai counties in the northern Verde Valley region of the U.S. state of Arizona.

Sedona’s main attraction is its array of red sandstone formations. The formations appear to glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun.

Start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. Multi-hued stone formations jut upwards from the high desert floor creating a vivid, mesmerising setting that changes hourly with the light. When USA Weekend compiled their Most Beautiful Places in America list, no surprises that Sedona claimed the top spot.

Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land, visitors have instant access to recreational activities. Trails for hiking and biking, along with bouncy jeep tracks, weave among the bristling forest of pinnacles, spires, buttes and domes.

Sedona has inspired me for a decade, its sheer beauty, magnificence and it is a great place to reflect and expand your thinking.

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A good friend, spoke to me this morning and discussed the quote: “Sometimes life is about risking everything for a dream no one can see, but you”. Powerful words, but exactly how many of us genuinely would risk everything for the dream?

By the way, I speak with words of wisdom on the subject, for those readers who have read my first book ‘Freedom after the Sharks’, you will know that this book was written on the basis of a non-fiction and true story, at the time this book was published and still today you will find very few authors very rarely explain the true journey of their life, I have never truly understood why people want to erase or try to forget adverse experiences, (by the way, research shows that you cannot choose to forget or erase life experiences) these are the very moments that we learn and whilst we may not understand why we are being forced in a certain direction, through these experiences we will build strength of character.

If your life choice is to leave a relationship, move to a new city or change country, leave a secure job or to set up a new business, many of us find ourselves facing big life decisions with little or no tools to help us make the best choice.

Sure, you can ask family and friends for their opinion, but often you leave those conversations more confused than when you started, you will always be the adviser with the most wisdom, your intuitive self will always have the right answer, whether you choose to listen or not.

You have a natural knowing within you that transcends logic, reason and experience and most definitely other people’s opinions. The problem is that most of us haven’t been taught how to access or trust our inner wisdom.

Because in my experience, whether I succeeded or failed was irrelevant once I was clear that the path I was taking was truly what was driving me as a person. I owned it and knew with 100% certainty that no matter what happened, I made the best decision for me, in life I have never had any regrets only life experiences that has made me the person I am today.

Whether life is telling you to be a Fighter Pilot, a Michelin chef, an Accountant or the world’s next Fin-Tech billionaire, you will need to ask yourself a few questions…..

Do you have the experience or are you prepared to retrain for your quest?
How hard are you prepared to fight for what your heart’s desire? Being truly successful means putting in the work to forge ahead. For careers that require qualifications, for the entrepreneurially minded it means rolling up your sleaves, working all hours and sacrificing the little luxuries until your idea/s begins to fly. Climbing the career ladder? Be prepared to start at the bottom and anticipate doing your fair share of tasks, tenacity, determination and nerves of steel are a prerequisite.

Have you just woken up with the big idea?
Success is born out of passion and there is no easy answer, no short cuts. It will be harder to reach than you first envisage. What are your strengths? What are the activities that make your heart dance, what drives you as a person? What profession motivates so much every day that you would never want to stop, regardless of your age and retirement?

The power of the relationship
Your friends, your colleagues, your associates and your loved ones need to support your idea/s their commitment and support is an imperative. Making things happen also means being a part of the business community, you need to introduce yourself to many people. Whether it is making contact with prospective employers, scouting for clients and collaborators, attending networking events or promoting yourself online, people need to know what you’ve got to offer if they’re going to help you succeed, and you absolutely need a mentor and confident.

Finances
The Idea/s are powerful but you need to have a roof, pay bills and food. If you are starting your own business then sooner or later you are going to going to need to generate invoices and the management of actually being paid. This can leave you in a tight position to get things up and running without a proper runway for operating and this is where many people and business ideas fail. The solutions are as varied as the challenges. You could look to friends and family, angel investors or seek loans or grants, do go to my website and download the free capital raise handbook for business development and growth, http://www.hsbusinessmanagement.com/

Maya Angelou once said:

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Writing life’s tapestry and our journey in life

I was sharing coffee with one of my great author friends recently, discussing my new book “Meaningful Conversations” and we discussed how do we write life’s tapestry if the heart is blocked.

The feeling I am describing is when you sit down to write and instead of feeling an energetic creative flow, you sit completely paralyzed, staring at your computer screen & seething at the injustice of your lack of creative life, many people describe this as writer’s block.

Studies have found writer’s block to be a simpler problem: an inability to allow the creative process to flow because of unhappiness, this happened to me personally when I wrote “Freedom after the Sharks”. But there are different kinds of unhappiness, and it’s the writers job to be honest about which one they’re suffering from and in some respect this can be a very important part of a writer revealing the truth about his or her unhappiness, the truth is always revealed in writing as in photography Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote: “I doubt if these islanders are acquainted with any other mode of representation but photography; so that the picture of an event (on the old melodrama principle that ‘the camera cannot lie, would appear strong proof of its occurrence.”

Woody Allen makes fun of writer’s block. He wrote a play called “Writer’s Block”, and he wrote, directed, and starred in a film called “Deconstructing Harry”, in which the protagonist, Harry Block, tells his therapist; ‘For the first time in my life I experience writers block….Now this, to me, is unheard of….I start these short stories and I can’t finish them….I can’t get into my novel at all…..because I took an advance.’

This is the trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9wYgL-Mglw

Writers block immediately disqualifies Harry Block from being Woody Allen because Woody Allen is one of the most productive film makers of his and possibly any generation. Between 1965 and 2014, Allen was credited in for than sixty six films as a director, writer or actor, often and more than not, all three. To take writing alone; Allen has written forty nine full-length theatrical films, eight stage plays, two television films and two short films, in less than sixty six years, a rate of a script a year.

I have studied Woody Allen and when you look at his miraculous life you can ascertain that time was of the most importance to his every moment, this quote really says everything about his passion for writing:
‘I never like to let any time go unused. When I walk somewhere in the morning, I still plan what I’m going to think about, which problem I’m going to tackle. I may say, this morning I’m going to think of titles. When I get in the shower in the morning, I try to use that time. So much of my time is spent thinking because that’s the only way to attack these writing problems’
Allen had many philosophies which I admire but I feel the one that resonates with me the most is intrinsic motivation, ‘self-motivation is the only motivation’. In life there are natural forces that we cannot guide or control, but I have learned as a writer that the power to create always comes from within, you will see some of my personal quotes where I use ‘never, never give up on your dreams’, the truth always comes down to how much you really want to achieve your dream, do you like the idea, or are your driven to achieve your idea.

One of my mentors many years ago would say to me stop procrastinating and just do what needs to be achieved, I have never forgotten these words.

Writing is subjective, each and everyone of us has a distinctive view, like and dislike to genre, fiction, non-fiction, biographical or fantasy, you will never please everyone, but with passion you can create your best.

Much of writer’s block comes from fear of the unknown, worry across what others will think, Woody Allen also quoted why indifference is so important, something that we all can relate to in business today, when he said: ‘longevity is an achievement, yes, but the achievement that I’m going for is to try to make great films. That has eluded me over the decades.’

Finally, I would like to leave you with some thoughts on passion, I believe every single person on the planet has passion whether we like to recognize this or not, passion if directed in the right way or focus can create amazing things, however passion in the opposite can destroy. So many of us, for reasons only we can answer, do not implement, execute or action our true and resolute passion/s. Unfulfilled passion creates a cavity between our present and our true potential. You have all heard of the saying ‘if only’ or ‘it might have been different if’, we all need to chase our dreams, you need to be careful what you wish for, because it may just come true. Unfulfilled passion can only create negative and malicious intent which takes us away from our ultimate desires and purpose in life.

Steve Brunkhorst once said: ‘As we weave the tapestries of our lives, we gradually begin to see our designs from a wider angle of years. We may or may not be pleased with what we see. Yet, no design–not in the living world–is carved in stone. We have the gift of free will to change our designs as we wish. We are each a thread in the tapestry of our human family. Our outcome is woven of endless possibilities, because we can choose from a universe of endless possibilities. Every person can make a difference. Each thread is a possibility, chosen by the design of divine imagination. Our life-time designs arise from our divine gifts, unique talents, desires, thoughts, choices, and actions. At times, old choices–old threads–wear out. We see the past while we live in the present, and we can replace the old…with new ideas, new choices, and new actions. We can view the future through today’s eyes, and time blends all experiences, dark and light, into an awareness of authentic joy. May you live joyfully and abundantly today and throughout every season of life!’

Why we need to set high standards to be extraordinary

excellence

I had coffee with a good friend and journalist recently, discussing my new book Meaningful Conversations and prospective around excellence and being extraordinary in life: we discussed Darwin and his contribution across research and study from nature to business today, all of our discussions had one fundamental commonality to be extraordinary you need to set high standards and have a purpose.

It is important to have high standards. For the most part, life will pay any price you ask of it. The people who achieve the most in the world have incredibly high standards. It is like this with businesses as well. A great piece of machinery, or a great service, is like this because of the standards that are followed.

You have personal values, beliefs and performance benchmarks. Your business also has these characteristics and they are referred to as company standards. Think of standards as your business personality and vision coupled with the rules you live and work by. Your small business standards will likely mirror your personal standards, and your customers, clients and employees will form an opinion about your business – and your brand – based on these values.

What are standards?
Your standards define how your company acts, which, in turn, builds trust in your brand. They can be guidelines that describe quality, performance, safety, terminology, testing, or management systems, to name a few. They can comply with authoritative agencies or professional organisations and be enforceable by law, such as required medical degrees for doctors or credentials for financial planners. Or they can be voluntary rules you establish to create confidence among your clients that your business operates at a high and consistent quality level, such as a restaurant only using the highest quality, locally-sourced ingredients.
Standards must align with your mission, business objectives, and organizational leadership, and be implemented consistently across your enterprise. Employees need to buy in to the value of adhering to standards so everyone is pulling in the same direction and reinforcing your brand.

Controlling and measuring standards
Standards are what your business aspires to, but they don’t guarantee performance. You need to create processes to control how your standards are implemented, and measure and evaluate how they help your business grow. Written guidelines, technical specifications, product inspection processes, management and financial audits, and even customer surveys can be effective performance indicators and help you determine if you’re meeting your standards, or if the standards need to be tweaked in some way.

With people, it is the psychology of standards that separates the best people from the ordinary. For people with high standards, they believe that everything matters and that nothing is small enough not to have a benchmark or standard. They hold themselves to high standards because they know that without doing this, they will not get to where they want to go, or become the people they want to be. They get “stressed” about not meeting the standards (their goals) and use this stress to drive them forward to get better and better. Stress is drive when you convert it. You want to have stress to drive yourself forward.

Working in an exceptional law firm is stressful precisely because they have such high standards. Everything is taken very seriously and the culture of the law firm is based on high standards. It is like this with medicine, finance and everywhere else where the people are the very best at what they do.

When you work with exceptional people, they generally have high standards and these standards will rub off on you. You become like the people you spend time with. This is why people who come out of certain employers where high standards are rigorously enforced tend to do better in the job market. Employers believe that they too will have high standards.

You can see how standards work in the fitness arena. If someone is a professional bodybuilder, they are generally going to be far more demanding of themselves from a fitness standpoint than someone who is not. They are going to work out harder, lift more, eat differently and live a different lifestyle than someone without these sorts of standards.

The Importance of Being Extraordinary
When law firms, companies and others lay people off, the people who lose their jobs are generally the people who are “good”. People who are “outstanding” never lose their jobs – hardly ever. Outstanding people are the ones who bring hard work, constant improvement and greatness to whatever they do. The world needs people who are outstanding and set the highest goals possible for themselves.

There is a part of you—and all of us—that is also outstanding and will come out if we set the right standards. Everyone can be outstanding with the right standards. If you say you cannot be outstanding, you are slapping the face of your creator. The entire secret to being outstanding lies in the standards you set for yourself. There is nothing on this earth that does not have a purpose. You are in control over what happens to you and can control it by the standards you set for yourself. Life has meaning when you give it your all.

high-standards

It is all about the standards and decisions you make. What standards are you going to choose for your life?

Comfort in where you are is dangerous. People who get too comfortable are the ones who get fat, lose their jobs, whose spouses walk out on them and who die early deaths because they do not take good care of themselves. People who get too comfortable do not earn the respect of the world, their children, peers and others at anywhere near the level they are capable of. People who get too comfortable slowly waste away.

The real question is how do companies with high standards get that way and how do they maintain them?

Which brings me to my conclusion: high standards start at the top. Leadership sets those standards and communicates expectations to the key people who then communicate them throughout the organisation, no matter whether the whole organisation consists of one person or hundreds. They train people on the standards, create metrics and review procedures to ensure the standards are maintained and enforced. If, or when, it is found that standards are not being maintained, remedial action is activated. I know this sounds simple, but it really is not, and involved tremendous work and energy, no one said maintaining excellence was easy as with being extraordinary. It takes a constant, never-ending effort to accomplish year-in and year-out. But the benefits are enormous.

In general, businesses with high standards enjoy higher customer satisfaction and greater customer loyalty, lower levels of staff turnover and a happier workforce, better reputations and more referrals, and higher profit margins which allows for greater investment in growth because customers are, typically, willing to pay a little more to get the results and benefits of those higher standards. The result is a more sustainable, more profitable, and more enjoyable business for all concerned.

Finally, assuming leadership is able to create and articulate those higher standards, it has to be realised this is not a “snap-the-fingers-and-it-happens” project. It takes patience, fortitude and gumption to get higher standards in place and achieved but when it works amazingly great things will happen.

Anthony Robbins once quoted:

“Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards”